At what point do we speak of constipation?
Bowel frequency varies from person to person, with anything between three times a day and three times a week considered normal. But if bowel movements don't occur for more than four days, we speak of constipation. The condition doesn’t always need a doctor or laxative medication to be cured. The right diet, more exercise and less stress are often enough.
Foods with lower fat levels, but higher levels of protein and fibre stimulate digestion naturally. These include whole grain products such as bread, pasta, brown rice, lentils, beans, oats, chickpeas and nuts. Apart from bananas, which tend to be constipating, vegetables and fruit are also important sources of fibre. In general, soft foods are better for bowel movements.
If you eat a high-fibre diet or are incorporating more natural laxatives into your meals, you need to drink plenty of fluids. It is especially important to drink a glass of water after consuming foods such as wheat bran that swell in the gut. Ideally you should drink 2 litres of unsweetened fluids over the course of a day.
Enough physical exercise
Daily exercise is another important factor in preventing constipation – and it doesn’t have to be highly athletic. A good walk, swim or bike ride is enough to stimulate the body’s natural bowel movements. Abdominal muscle training, regular pelvic floor training and yoga are also good methods.
Foods that are natural laxatives include dried fruits like figs and prunes, as well as sauerkraut, beetroot, flaxseed, wheat bran and psyllium. Pure prune juice or a tablespoon of olive oil taken on an empty stomach can also ease constipation. However, it takes a few hours for the effect to take place. Important: when starting with laxative foods, increase the amount slowly so as to avoid flatulence.
Natural laxatives don’t work for everyone. Anyone therefore deciding to take medicinal laxatives should do so only after professional consultation and not over a long period of time.
People under stress release more hormones, including adrenalin. This slows down intestinal activity and causes constipation. In stressful situations, it’s better to shift down a gear and find time for relaxation exercises. And try not to take your stress with you to the bathroom, but give yourself enough time.
If neither dietary changes nor lifestyle adjustments help relieve constipation, it’s worth seeing a doctor.